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Opening of Cambodia Railroad Puts Pan-Asian Railway On Track

KUALA LUMPUR, 22 OCTOBER, 2010: The first segment of a new international standard railroad, co-financed by international donors including Malaysia, officially opened in Cambodia today, a major step towards the creation of a long-awaited Pan-Asian railroad.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is providing US$84 million in support of the reconstruction and repair of 650 kilometers (404 miles) of rail stretching from Cambodia’s border with Thailand, through the capital city of Phnom Penh, and southward to Sihanoukville, the country’s main seaport.

Australia provided the additional US$21.5 million while Malaysia contributed 106 km (66 miles) of track worth US$2.8 million in support of the US$141 million project.

ADB said in a statement today that Cambodia allocated US$20.3 million for the rail project while the other co-financiers include the OPEC Fund for International Development with US$13 million.

Freight service has commenced along a 120km (75 mile) stretch of rail between Phnom Penh and Touk Meas, near the Vietnamese border. The entire rail line is scheduled to be operational by 2013.

“We are on the cusp of a contiguous Iron Silk Road stretching from Singapore to Scotland,” said Kunio Senga, director-general of ADB’s Southeast Asia Department.

“This possibility has been talked about for decades, but today the dream has finally taken a big step towards becoming a reality.”

Decades of conflict have left Cambodia’s railroad in serious disrepair, with rail traffic slowly declining to a trickle.

In some parts of the country, homemade lorries – simple, makeshift bamboo platforms powered by water-pump motors – are the main form of rail transport along the antiquated tracks.

Cambodia’s less developed transportation network and the country’s higher transportation costs result in higher prices for imported and locally-made goods compared to neighboring countries.

ADB said the new railway would help lower the cost of staple commodities that poor Cambodian families relied on for sustenance.

“This new railroad represents another important step for Cambodia in overcoming its legacy of conflict,” said Senga. “With better infrastructure and closer economic ties with its neighbors, Cambodians are enjoying a peace dividend more than ever before.”

Once Cambodia’s new railroad is ready, only one link, between Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, will remain before a Pan-Asian railway is complete.

Cambodia and Vietnam have already signed an agreement to link their railways, and China is supporting a design study on a rail link from Phnom Penh to Loc Ninh, Vietnam.

The railway rehabilitation project is a vital component of the Greater Mekong Subregion’s southern economic corridor – linking Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – and is a key component of Asean’s Singapore-Kunming Rail Link Project.

Toll Holdings, an Australian company, has been awarded a 30-year contract to operate and maintain the rehabilitated railway system.

– Bernama – 22 October 2010